Gone … Ben Te’o is the latest player to take his allegiance across the Tasman, to the Maroons.As the captain of New Zealand, I find it incredibly difficult watching our players turn their backs on their country, preferring to play State of Origin. Everyone is entitled to make a decision that suits them, but it is disappointing. It’s heartbreaking to know some of the talent we have in New Zealand is being lost to Australia, who have enough talent.
Something has to be done. Two of the biggest front-rowers in the game, James Tamou and Sam Kasiano, are both born and bred in New Zealand.
Now it appears they have pledged their allegiances to NSW and Queensland respectively. Ben Te’o is the latest Kiwi-born player to pledge his allegiance to the Maroons.
I can see the appeal. If you were a young player and you had a coach such as Mal Meninga or Ricky Stuart in your ear, saying they want you in their team, it would be difficult to knock back. I think some of them might have been talked into it.
The payments for Tests need to be considered. With talk of players earning up to $50,000 for an Origin game in the future, players are going to be enticed to play.
For me, money doesn’t come into it. It’s about where you’re from, the pride of representing your country, the pride in your family. That outweighs the money for me. But for a younger player, that choice is more difficult. I know it would be very difficult for some young players to say no to that opportunity.
I did represent Australia, at schoolboys level, but my situation was very different. I did so out of spite, not because of money. I didn’t make the junior Kiwis squad because they didn’t even know who I was back then. It was a payback scenario for me. But when I was standing on the other side of the field in Auckland, facing the haka, I felt lost. I was miming the words to the haka and singing the New Zealand national anthem before the game. It didn’t feel right. I knew there and then I wanted to be on the other side of the field. I didn’t really feel like playing after that.
It took me until I was on the other side to realise where I wanted to be. I was lucky enough this happened early in my career, so I could change my mind and pledge my allegiance to New Zealand. Once these Origin players get on the other side of the fence, they don’t have that chance to change their mind. The damage has been done.
I honestly think this is damaging Origin too. If I was a potential NSW or Queensland player, and I’d seen Kiwis taking what could have been my spot, I would be annoyed and frustrated. Down the track, if it starts to become even more of a regular occurrence, what then? What happens if there are 10 Kiwis in a State of Origin team? I’m sure Australians would not want their NSW or Queensland teams full of Kiwis. Origin is built on culture.
The whole situation dulls Origin for me a little. I don’t have the solution. But I know one thing; something needs to be done, whether it is tightening up eligibility laws further, or ensuring there is more equality in the representative match payments. There are too many factors which come into play for younger players. And we, New Zealand, are going to keep losing our talent to Australia. We lost Karmichael Hunt, Tamou and now Te’o. Who’s next?
Having said that, I’m looking forward to watching Wednesday night’s decider. I would love to see NSW win, for Origin and for Robbie Farah. I think they’re a big chance. I want Robbie to win primarily because of what he has been going through, but also so he returns to the Tigers with some confidence and helps us get our season back on track.
It will be tough in Brisbane, but the Maroons will be a different team without Billy Slater. Even though Greg Inglis is a daunting prospect, they won’t have the luxury of Slater sweeping out the back, or taking an inside ball off Cooper Cronk, or chasing kicks. It will be a very different Queensland team without Slater.
To be fair, Queensland haven’t played their best this series, so they’ll be looking for improvement. But the forwards aren’t as scary as they used to be. The Blues have many things in their favour. Their halves have been in good form for their club and, while losing Glenn Stewart is a blow, I know Robbie can play a significant role. Once the emotion of the first 20 minutes is out of the way, I think it will come down to who plays the most attacking football. The Blues’ attacking power is strong. If they get it right, and play to their potential, they will win.
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